Advice Column: How To Press Play When You're The Ex On Hold

Advice Column: How To Press Play When You're The Ex On Hold
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Bruce Dixon

Dear Chelsea,

The last two years I have put on hold any real emotions or commitment for a guy who I dated in college for about a year and a half that broke my heart for what felt like no reason. I could have seen it coming had I not been trying so hard to fix whatever was not working any longer.

Since we broke things off, I have been trying to get back together with him and changed whatever I could to accommodate him, including my standards, and blown off any other shot at a real relationship in hopes that he would one day change and decide he wanted to really give us another go. His excuses range anywhere from, "I just moved and am getting settled" or "It's not a good time for me right now" or "I'm only 27 I don't need a girlfriend right now" or last but not least (and my personal favorite) "My parents divorce has ruined my idea of a real loving relationship".

Over the last 6 months I have been seeing someone new, and my ex (although not to the full extent) has been aware because living in the same city, we still remain in contact from time to time. After recently sensing that our relationship was becoming somewhat serious, my ex has reached out to me threatening to ruin my new relationship because "he can't stand to see me this happy with someone else, it hurts him too much" but... he still doesn't want anything with me.

I know, I know - this is a textbook "everyone wants what they can't have" and that isn't what I am writing to you about. My question for you is, how do I separate my feelings that come to surface when he says the things he knows I'm wanting, and have been wanting to hear for so long? How do I keep from feeling all the feelings I have tried so hard to escape? After all, he is only sending me texts and making moderate effort.. and the timing is all too ironic. I am scared that my old feelings coming back will interfere with my new relationship and in turn, cause me to push away this new love for something more comfortable and unfortunately, very toxic.

Any words of wisdom would help and be very appreciated.


An Ex On Hold

Abdi Lopez

Dear Ex On Hold,

You know what’s so hard about moving on? We almost always want one more time together to get it right. For those of us who haven’t felt loved enough, we want one more time together to show just how valuable we actually are. For those of us who feel bored in our relationship, we want one more time together to see if he can’t make us laugh again, to see if he can’t arouse the butterflies that’ve been sleeping in our chest. Even the couples who are harboring hatred are difficult to pry loose, for the very reason that they are invested in the small chance that they can return to love. There’s also the couples who are ending their relationships for practical reasons and not for a lack of love whatsoever; they too want one more time together to love each other some more, one more time together to forget that the dream they had together has fallen short.

All these scenarios have one thing in common, and that’s our desire to put the next chapter on hold.

It’s an almost universal discomfort we have with not knowing what is next for us—or when we will find it and how that will pan out.

What’s rather jarring, however, is what we are holding on to is rarely ever an ideal partnership. Rarely are we trying to hold on to the best chapter of our life. If we’re honest with ourselves, we are trying to hold on to the opportunity to make the best of what we’ve got. But why? Why put so much effort—so much control—into making the subpar superior? Why not accept that a half-assed relationship is exactly that so you can go make yourself available to a kick ass relationship? Why not accept that a man actually does struggle with the concept of a loving relationship after seeing his parents give each other everything but love? Why in the world do we perpetually want to make believe that what we have now can, under our spell, turn into so much more? Where do we get off thinking that we have the power to eradicate a man of his excuses or make the timing right? I think we do it because we don’t actually feel powerful at all.

Joshua Fuller

We invest our time in relationships of convenience and our faith in relationships that have zero magic to them—in fact, we even throw our heart behind men that quite frankly may just not want us as we are, hence changing ourselves trying to accommodate them—because that’s the most disempowering thing we could do. Don’t you see it? Giving more to a relationship that’s giving us so much less is hateful. Holding on to whoever we’ve got is the exact way we deny ourselves of what we need and all that we can have. It’s borderline abusive to our own potential.

Because you said there’s a chance your ex will interfere with your new relationship, we need to talk about why you would even let him. We need to talk about why you would even entertain such a possibility. I don’t want to breeze over this, even if your question doesn’t begin here, because my gut feeling is that during your breakup, you “changed whatever [you] could to accommodate him” and win him over because you aren’t proud enough of your own character. You might not even know enough about your own character. This is what happens when we don’t invest enough in ourselves, in our perspective, in our values, in the expectations we have for our own life and all who are involved in it—what happens is, we so mindlessly, so compulsively, will take on the characteristics of who we think we need to be. Just like you said, we will trade in our standards. We, essentially, will degrade ourselves if it means we get to hold on; and we do it, because we don’t know what makes us feel powerful beyond the superficial high of approval.

If there were ever a reason not to get back with someone, this would be it. Having to tinker with yourself in order to convince someone to let you in is a no go. What’s so toxic about this dynamic is you’re putting your power—your future and liveliness, even your identity—in the hands of someone else and you’re saying, go ahead and mold me. But by becoming who you think he needs, and doing so tirelessly, you lose sight of what healthy relationships are all about, which is encouraging you to take pride in yourself. This is what’s so special about loving dynamics versus toxic dynamics. They let us feel comfortable in being just as we are and, simultaneously, excite us into becoming more than we are.

Which begs the question, why do you feel more comfortable in toxic relationships? Is it possible that toxic relationships actually slow down the process of revealing yourself to someone and that’s what comforts you, that the toxicity delays the grand reveal of you at the core? Do you think it’s possible that, even now in this new relationship of yours, you have one foot out and stuck in the drama of your ex because a healthy, functioning relationship can actually be quite intimidating since it calls on us to be healthy and functioning individuals?

Oskar Krawczyk

A book that changed my life was Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love by Pia Mellody. In it, she talks about the co-addicted tango between the love addict and the avoidant addict. I think you may see yourself and your ex playing out the dynamics she discusses so brilliantly. It really did wake me up to my own toxic relationship years ago. Another relevant read is He’s Scared, She’s Scared: Understanding the Hidden Fears that Sabotage Your Relationships by Steven Carter.

I’m recommending these books because to free yourself of the toxic, you first have to be able to acknowledge what is toxic. Not just in your ex. But in yourself. You have to be able to acknowledge it and then understand why you gravitate toward scenarios that keep your potential on hold. This is where the real work begins. To separate from your feelings, you have to hear the thoughts that are triggering them. After all, every feeling is a reaction to a thought we have. If you want to feel better, you have to think better.

Of course this plan is tough to initiate on your own. Breaking through your own thought pattern really is a revolutionary act. Which is why I always recommend literature or a coach to guide you along in the process. A new perspective will help you tremendously.

Aditya Saxena

My advice is, dig deep about why you were so invested in making this relationship with your ex work in the first place. What was it about—not him—but the two of you together that’s been so hard to let go? Why were you so focused on fixing the relationship and altering yourself to be with someone who openly struggles with commitment? What about yourself would you never compromise? What part of yourself have you never tried to fix? When you were busy focusing on him, what other aspects of your life fell to the wayside? Which dreams of your own drifted into the background as your relationship highs and lows consumed you? What’s the greatest, grandest dream you’ve got for yourself right now?

These questions will give you perspective on yourself and, the more inquisitive you can be with yourself, the more your character will shine through. And trust me, the more you invest in understanding yourself the more unwillingly you will be about just giving yourself up to appease the appetite of another individual.

My advice is, prioritize self-inquiry. It will reward you forever.

Oskar Krawczyk

Next, stop thinking of this relationship as a story of rejection. You called his reasons for not being with you excuses. But, you know what I think? I think those are legitimate reasons to not be with someone. Instead of making it about you, let his reasoning be about him. Maybe he doesn’t know what love looks like and therefore doesn’t know how to offer it yet. His parents’ divorce may sincerely be an obstacle that he’ll need to overcome on his way to healthy love. Also, he could be scared that he’ll somehow fail you along the way like, who knows, maybe his mother or father did to each other. I’ve heard men voice these fears and they are real. They aren’t excuses. They are coming from a place of not knowing what to do and also not wanting to do the wrong thing. Look at your relationship as a relationship where two people just weren’t comfortable or ready—and maybe didn’t even know how—to truly give themselves to each other.

This will help you accept the ending of your relationship and even provide you closure for why it didn’t work out. It will also calm you when you hear from your ex. Because instead of hearing from him and looking at it as a dance between rejection and desire, you will see it as a dance between fear and love. If you believe your ex’s reasons for not being with you, you will have more compassion when he lashes out. You won’t be so confused because you’ll realize that while he still isn’t willing to commit, fear is triggering him to reach out.

You see, he's scared that his fear of commitment will sabotage his chances of finding happiness with another human being. He wants to keep you in the picture and postpone you spinning off into the future without him, in order to keep his fear of ending up alone at bay. If you acknowledge what your ex may be struggling with rather than painting your relationship through the lens of rejection, you will see how fear—and not actually a calculating disinterest in you—is ruling his life.

That’s a lot easier to cope with, right?

Oladimeji Odunsi

Now, there’s also a second alternative, and it has less to do with compassion and more to do with patience. You can lose patience for all of this. You can look at the back and forth dynamic you have with your ex and you can say enough. You can just be sick of it. Sick of yourself and sick of him. Sick of putting so much heart and adrenaline into a relationship that’s not taking you anywhere.

And believe it or not, this is a decision. Not making yourself available to an unavailable man is a decision. It’s a decision to no longer break your own heart. It’s a decision to no longer compromise your emotions on a day to day basis. It’s a decision to no longer fool yourself into thinking that you can incentivize someone into pulling themselves together. It’s a decision to stop trying to excuse actions that baffle you by giving them so much consideration and therein meaning. More than anything, it’s a decision to brave your own life by honoring your own desires, prioritizing your standards first and foremost, and no longer putting your future—and therein potential—on hold.

It took me three and a half years before I could do that with an ex of mine. It took me crying uncontrollably so often, plummeting below 100 pounds, having no social life, and my sister looking at me one afternoon and telling me that if I had more faith in what I alone could make of my future, I would have left my boyfriend long ago. It took all of that and then me saying today is the day I’m going to try. I’m going to try to really let go. I’m going to tell him I’ve given him my all but I can’t go on like this. I’m out. That decision and the persistence to keep my own promise to myself—the promise to not return to him and not keep delaying our inevitable fallout either—was a decision that saved my spirit and changed my life. I wish I had done it three weeks into our relationship rather than three and a half years later.

But the thing is, it was a decision to stop putting the next chapter on hold. It was a decision to stop trying to have one more moment together to get it right. What I could only admit to afterwards was, the reason I was holding on, the reason I kept wanting to entertain the possibility of being together, was because I wasn’t ready to face the feelings that come with knowing someone is no longer an option.

Jakon Owens

I tried to capture the feeling in an article I wrote awhile back: “What makes breaking up especially torturous is that I don’t want to break a heart. But I don’t want to be heartbroken either. And my heart is already broken. It’s been broken while in the relationship. It’s been broken for too long. Which is why breaking up can actually feel so terrifying. So obvious and inevitable. And yet, keep us so hesitant. Because if we already feel heartbroken, if we already feel that this is hell, what will being without him feel like? Being without hope. Without anything to commit to. Being even without hatred when hatred is a drama that can make us feel less alone. This is why I have always postponed a breakup.”

Having come out on the other side of this, what I can tell you is, the only thing worse than losing someone is anticipating yourself losing someone. When you finally make the decision to move on from your ex, to really move on and stop getting excited when he reaches out, to stop letting it mean so much, you are going to feel the feelings you’ve been trying to escape. But the reality is, this will be a release. Facing those feelings and having them, really crying your way through it, is going to release the fear that you’ve been bottling up and which has been consequentially caging you in. It’s going to release you of all the anxiety and disappointment that’s so tied up in this relationship.

Sam Manns

So, to close this out, you separate the feelings that surface when your ex says what you’ve been wanting to hear, by sitting with your feelings less and harnessing your knowledge more. When it happens, immediately go into a place of feeling less and knowing more. Know that he is telling you what you want to hear, not necessarily because he’s malicious but, because he’s afraid and to remedy that he’s trying to keep you both from moving into the next chapter of your life. Rather than relishing in this, choose compassion over curiosity. Have compassion for his fear but do not lead yourself deeper into the cave of curiosity. Give up needing more answers from him. Decide, instead, to have no patience for it. Decide that you want a man who reaches out to you because he’s coming from an empowered place, period. Not from a place of fear and envy. Remind yourself that the timing is, yes, too ironic as well as too convenient. Then rather than making a choice based on disempowered feelings, make a choice based on what you know. (Knowledge is power, right?) Because you know you don’t want convenience, you want commitment, don’t entertain the feelings that may surface. The feelings that come with yearning for one more time together to get it right and the yearning to know “what-if”—what if he really wants me this time, what if he really means it? Such yearning is just your hesitancy. It’s you limiting yourself.

By rising to the occasion of your life and saying I don’t want this drama anymore, this frantic indecision that comes from him and this frantic desperation that’s triggered in me, you will feel yourself grow powerful. And that’s what you need. You need to make the tough calls. You need to do what you haven’t been willing to do completely so your past and this person especially can stop having so much power over you. Trust me, the choice to make yourself available to the moreness that you crave will liberate you from yearning for how little you were once given.

I hope you know you are so deserving of this.

I’m rooting for you.



PS: A man wrote into me about waiting for a woman who wasn’t ready, I think it may resonate with you.

Diana Simumpande

A Breakup Coach trained and certified in Solution-Focused Life Coaching, Chelsea Leigh Trescott helps her clients find meaning in what's been lost. For a chance to be featured in her HuffPo advice column or Mogul Q&A series, “Thank You, Heartbreak,” which spotlights creatives who attribute their professional reinvention and personal success to heartbreak, write

For coaching services, including e-coaching services, visit

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